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Summer Resorts
Are you dreading the panhandling bears at Yellowstone and
three-hour waits at Disneyland? Consider these terrific family options.)


By Larry Olmsted


Time for the family vacation! All across America dads are girding up for interminable lines in Orlando, migraine-inducing car trips, or offbeat remote museums that may or may not be air-conditioned. Not what you had in mind? You're in luck. More and more traditional resorts are targeting families, with prices and activities to please both parents and children.


While almost all resorts allow children, this alone does not make them family friendly. Destinations that rely on romantic getaways or cater to business groups are not the best choices. True family resorts offer a wide range of facilities and activities that will interest children. The very best have kids' camps or other scheduled supervision.


"There's a difference between children's facilities and children's programs," stresses Kathy Sudeikis, member of the board of directors of the American Society of Travel Agents. "Facilities can mean a broken swing. Programs are scheduled, with things like hula lessons or nature activities. Many parents don't want to put their kids in a program, but the kids love it."


Most resorts with children's camps offer half or full day programs, but the better ones give parents more flexibility. The best have numerous age group divisions, within which activities are better suited for the enjoyment of infants, pre-teens or teens.


One of the most comprehensive programs in the travel industry is Camp Hyatt, offered at a dozen resorts operated by Chicago based Hyatt Hotels Corp. Catering to children 3-12, each participating resort has a slightly different program, but the theme stresses local flora, fauna, culture and ecology. Camp Hyatt also features activities in which parents can participate with their children, such as barbecues, sports, and nature tours. By dividing the day into morning, lunch, afternoon and evening sessions, you can customize Camp Hyatt to your schedule and pay only for what you use. This allows your children to enjoy themselves while you play golf today, but tomorrow you can spend the day together touring, yet still enjoy a romantic dinner. Average prices range from $18 for the three hour morning session to $68 for the full day, including lunch and dinner (800-233-1234 or
http://www.hyatt.com).


For families that want to golf together, most Hyatt resorts also offer Kids Play Free, which can save a bundle on greens fees. "Our guests have begun bringing their children year round. It's a real trend," said Doug Sears, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Grand Cayman. "What's great about this location is the excursions available to Camp Hyatt participants: there's the turtle farm, sand castle building, and very shallow, safe beaches for snorkeling. If parents want a romantic dinner alone, we offer nightly crafts and movies for kids. If you compare it to a baby sitter, it's a great deal."


The resort charges $40 for a full day with lunch, and an additional $10 for the evening session. Another property, the Hyatt Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale, focuses on desert tours, Native American crafts, and regional wildlife.


Many other resorts feature similar programs. Enchantment in Sedona, Arizona, has Camp Coyote, with sports, nature activities, and arts & crafts. The full day program with lunch costs $50 (800-826-4180). One of the most in-depth programs in the country is at the Sundance resort in Sundance, Utah, which has one, three and six day kids' camps. Sundance takes advantage of its natural mountain setting as well as the visitingartists from around the world which the resort hosts. A typical family package costs around $1000, including three nights accommodations, breakfast for four, and three-day kids camps for two children (801-223-4140).


Besides camps, many destinations offer an array of non-scheduled activities, and accommodations suitable for families. "For lodging," Sudeikis suggests, "plan with a family in mind. Consider condo rentals with kitchens and refrigerators. Many resorts offer these in addition to regular hotel rooms." For value, experts recommend going slightly off-season. In summer, this means destinations like the Caribbean, Hawaii, Utah and Arizona. Many hotels, especially in resort areas, offerfree kids meals, which can be a big savings.


The Mauna Kea in Hawaii offers two rooms for the price of one from May-December, perfect for larger families. The hotel has scheduled children's activities daily, focusing on local culture, including Hawaiian arts & crafts classes. The weekly Paniolo night, a barbecue celebrating Hawaiian cowboy tradition with entertainment and roping displays, is a big hit with families. (800-882-6060, or try the website:
www.maunakeabeachhotel.com)



The Sandestin Resort in Destin, FL, recently shifted its marketing focus to families. Located on the coast of the Florida panhandle, near the Alabama border, the town of Destin has long been a southern Mecca for beach lovers, as its talcum-white beaches are among the world's best. With over 700 one, two and three bedroom condos, as well as a Hilton Hotel, the resort has a wide range of family lodging options. All guests get complimentary use of bicycles to explore the community and free tennis court time. The children's program, called KidZone, is extensive, with supervised half-day programs for children aged 4-6, and half and full-day programs for children 7-12. These include outdoor activities, games, and arts and crafts. Six nights a week, a "Children's Evening Out" program for ages 4-12 features a pizza party, games and a movie. (800-622-1922,
www.sandestin.com)


La Quinta, near Palm Springs, CA offers "dive-in movies," each Saturday night, where kids float on rafts in the pool while watching a movie. This helps beat the summer heat in the desert, as do the dozens of semi-private swimming pools throughout La Quinta's extensive grounds. The resort's elaborate children's program, Camp La Quinta operates every day of the year, with full and half-day programs featuring daily themes, such as desert discovery day, which includes a nature walk, sand art, and special activities like a fossil dig where children learn about rchaeology (800-598-3828).


For all in one shopping, it's hard to beat the Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginian. This huge resort offers 6500 acres chock full of activities like a falconry center, off-road driving school, fishing, hiking trails, a bowling center, croquet, horseshoes, shuffleboard and indoor and outdoor pools. There are three different children's programs spanning ages 3-12, and nightly movies in the resort's own theater. A summer special includes free room and board for all children under 12, and besides the hotel's 550 rooms, there are 71 guesthouses and cottages of various sizes. (800-624-6070, or try the website at:
www.greenbrier.com)



Larry Olmsted covers travel and recreation for many national magazines.






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